A Review of the Published Literature about The High Level Crystal Palace Station and it's Subway

by Stephen Oxford


This is a chronological review of the published material about the subway that was built to connect the Crystal Palace High Level Station directly to the central transept entrance of the Crystal Palace after its move to south London in 1854.  The High Level Station was opened in 1865, some eleven  years after the relocation of the Crystal Palace. The review  seeks to establish who designed and built the subway as well as dealing with elements of its history and use to date.  Material has been gathered from newspaper articles, books, magazine articles and archive materials.


The review has been prompted by an apparent lack of published, authoritative information about the subway. It also attempts to examine the apparent wholesale 'lifting' of so called facts from one publication to another with no quoting of, nor reference to, primary sources nor any apparent attempt to test their validity.


The review includes literature referring to Edward Middleton Barry where it sheds light on his role as probable architect and designer of the subway, other members of the Barry family and  the builders Messrs. Lucas.


It is not claimed that all published material is included and it would be appreciated if you could identify and others to the author of this work.

Summary and Conclusions

Two primary sources, The Engineer, 1865, p96 and The Morning Post, 25 December 1865, both clearly credit the design of the Crystal Palace High Level Station to Charles Barry.  As Sir Charles Barry died in 1860 we must assume that they were referring to Charles Barry junior in partnership with Robert Richardson banks.


Some sixteen years later in 1881 in an obituary for Edward Middleton Barry in The Minutes of the Proceedings of The Institute of Civil Engineers,  it is clearly stated that the Crystal Palace High Level Station was designed by Edward Middleton Barry, however the station does not appear in any published list of buildings designed by Edward Barry.


Elements of Barry's design of the Crystal Palace High Level Station, such as the square corner towers surmounted by mansard roofs and with coloured brickwork and stone facings,  can be seen in his designs of Stevenson House, Torrington, Devon, (1872), and Crewe Hall Cheshire.


The 1964 drawings compiled by the GLC attribute the subway to the 'E M Barry: Vaults and Associated Works at Crystal Palace, Sydenham'.


Warwick's book The Phoenix Suburb, 1972,  is the first publication to attribute the construction of the Subway to Italian craftsmen.  However, sadly, he does support his claim by linking it to any primary source.


Biddle in his book Victorian Stations, 1973, states that the Crystal Palace High Level Station was designed by Bans and Barry; no primary source for this claim is given.


Biney and Pearce, Railway Architecture, 1976, claim that the Crystal Palace High Level Station was opened in 1876 and was designed by Mr Banister, the company engineer of the London, Brighton and South Coast railway and Mr Gough, architect.  They provide no primary source to support this claim.


Northeast, The Crystal Palace Park of 1854, claims that the 'beautiful subway' was 'built in the form of a crypt', 'the idea for which was borrowed from the Houses of parliament'. To add to the ongoing confusion over who actually designed the station and subway she attributes them to Banks and Barry. No primary sources are listed.


Confusion over the architect is further extended by Searle, Lost Lines, 1982.  She  claims the Crystal Palace High Level Station was designed by Sir Charles Barry, even though he had died in 1860!  She also refers to the use of 'Italian craftsmen'.  Much of her description appears to be little more than a paraphrasing of Warwick.


Goode, To the Crystal Palace, 1984 says the designer was Edward Barry and that the station was called 'Crystal Palace and Upper Norwood'. No sources included.


In his 1989 article Crystal Palace (High Level Branch) Smith describes the 'Byzantine' subway, repeating earlier claims that craftsmen were brought over from Italy' to construct it. He names Edward Barry as the architect but includes no references.


Twenty five excellent photographs, many unpublished elsewhere are included in London Suburban Railways by Mitchell and Smith 1991.

The esign of the stations on the line between Nunhead and Crystal Palace were designed by Charles Barry junior though it is unclear if this includes the High level  station. No sources listed.


The 'Italian craftsmen' idea is repeated by Scott, Crystal Palace and Anerley in Old Photographs. no source is provided for this claim.


Use of an Italianate style in buildings in the upper Norwood area designed  by Sir Charles Barry and his son is referred to by Coulter, Norwood Past, 1996.


Bullen Consultants carried out research and exploratory work on the subway in 1997 on behalf of Bromley Council.  They claim to have found very few published references to the subway excepting a postcard from the 1950s stating it was built by Italian craftsmen. This would appear to predate Warwick's claim and my, in fact, be his source.  They excavated a small section of the subway down from the road. The columns rise above the level of the circular arches below are waterproofed by black pitch with no evidence of any other supporting structure within the columns.


Emile Zola's collection of photographs published by the Norwood Society repeat claims in the captions that the architect was Edward Barry and 'Italian cathedral masons' were used in building the subway.  However no sources to support these claims are provided and it should be noted that one of the compilers of the captions was Joan Warwick, widow of Alan who wrote the Phoenix Suburb and may draw on that publication for information.


An extensive publication about all aspects of the High Level station is by Jackson, London's Local railways, 1999. He states the architect as Edward Barry and describes, in some detail, the Byzantine crypt fashioned by Italian craftsmen.  To his credit there is an extensive list of sources and bibliography included, with the caveat that 'it is not comprehensive... and that only some of the listed sources were actually consulted'!   Further there are no links between the text and sources making it difficult to know where much of the information included came from.

Piggott, The Palace of the People, 2004 again attributes the design to Edward Barry, but includes no source for this claim.


The claim that 'Italian craftsmen' were brought to fashion the 'crypt' (subway?) is repeated by Spence, The Making of a London Suburb, 2007. Although he includes a list of sources at the end of each chapter and a general bibliography there is no way of linking any of them directly with sections of the text.


The thorough book, The Crystal Palace High Level Railway by gale, 2011 with its extensive list of notes, sources, bibliography and primar sources fails to shed any further light on the architect and builders.


The confusion over architect/s is further compounded by Anderson, Architects and Architecture of London, 2013 by attributing the design to 'Banks and Berry' (sic); no source provided.  He continues the Italian craftsmen theme by quoting directly from Jackson, 1999.


In conclusion it can be seen that there are very few primary source providing substantiated facts about the High Level Station and the subway.


Which member of the Barry family really did design the High Level Station and it's subway seems to depend on which source one accepts. The earliest primary source The Engineer, 1865, would have us believe it to be Mr Charles Barry!  However this is contradicted by the Morning Post a few months later claiming it to be Edward Middleton Barry.  Later still the partnership of Banks and Barry are named.   The building occurs in no published list of  works of any of the Barry family that I have found to date.


The claim that the subway was built by 'Italian craftsmen' does not appear in books and articles until described by Alan Warwick, 1972, there after it is repeated ad infinitum, without referring to any source what so ever!


It is sad that most books and articles on the subject fail to include a bibliography let alone a list of primary or secondary sources.


Unless a current member of the Barry family can produce some primary sources we may never know who the real architect was nor the origin of the subway builders.




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